In the first of my Mali™ Power & Efficiency blogs we looked at the inbuilt flexibility and scalability of the Mali range of GPUs. It’s this that allows ARM® partners to target exactly the right performance and efficiency balance to suit their specific product, whether that’s a low power smartwatch or a top of the range premium smartphone. In this blog we’re going to take a deeper dive into the high performance end of this spectrum and look at one key ecosystem partner, Nibiru, who are implementing High Performance Mali GPUs in their range of awesome, standalone VR headsets.
Anyone who’s read my previous blogs on the growing market for Virtual Reality knows I feel strongly that VR and AR are set to change the way we work, live and play. Like most things in life however, it’s not that simple. In order to achieve a truly immersive, high quality VR experience there are some technical challenges we need to overcome. We’ve discussed the need for clear focus to help our brains believe what we’re seeing, we’ve talked about how low latency is key to avoiding nausea and dizziness, and we’ve looked at the future of the field with eye tracking and foveated rendering.
As you can see from the image below, there are a lot of intricate elements to be balanced in a VR headset and ensuring each of them is just right is not an easy task. By featuring a high quality, WQHD (2560x1440p), 5.67” Samsung AMOLED display, Nibiru ensures the user can experience the clearest imagery with the crispest possible colors due to the advanced technology of the screen. Every single pixel in an AMOLED display provides its own light source through the film which sits behind it, whereas a typical LCD screen is continuously backlit by white LEDs. Because colors are achieved by individually updating the colored LEDs behind the screen, it is possible to get brighter and sharper hues with stronger saturation. You can also turn off sections of the panel to achieve a deeper, truer black than is typically possible on a continuously-lit LCD. This is also beneficial for VR due to the latency reduction benefits discussed previously.
So how do we make all this come together into a truly awesome VR product? The answer is power.
A High Performance GPU is essential to achieving a truly great VR experience and Nibiru recognised this when they started designing their VR products. Focusing on mobile VR, Nibiru initially launched their VR OS and VR Launcher to support virtual reality via smartphone and their VR ROM when they began designing standalone devices. With around three million headsets shipped in 2016 so far, this is a company getting ahead of the VR curve. Their latest high end product, the Pro One Plus, is due for release towards the end of 2016 and uses one of the most powerful Mali-based SoCs available, the Samsung Exynos 8890. This SoC features an MP12 configuration of Mali-T880, the highest performing Mali GPU currently appearing in devices. Powering the Samsung Galaxy S7, and therefore the Samsung Gear VR, the Exynos 8890 has already proven its merits in the high performance smartphone space and is a perfect fit for a standalone VR device like Nibiru’s.
The Exynos implementation of MP12 is the highest number of cores we’ve seen in a Mali-T880 based chipset but we’re due for yet another step up with the recently released Mali-G71 which can scale up to 32 cores, double that available in the Mali-T880. Operating on Nibiru’s in-house VR OS this new device has 3GB RAM, 32GB in-built memory, HDMI input and supports customized third party VR apps for gaming, video streaming and more. It’s also optimized for Google Play and YouTube to make sure you never run out of awesome content.
Pro One Plus provisional design (powered by Nibiru)
So why did Nibiru choose ARM Mali to power their devices? Nibiru co-founder Tony Chia explained that it was very important to them to choose a GPU that could effectively provide sufficient performance levels to ensure a smooth VR experience with minimal latency. He went on to explain that ‘user experience is very important to us and to make sure we can bring a great mobile VR experience to the mass market we had to have the right hardware in place from the beginning. Our initial focus has been around providing excellent VR video and experience based applications rather than high end gaming due the challenges of interacting with a virtual environment. ARM Mali GPUs allow us to choose an SoC that gives us peak performance whilst still saving power and extending battery life as long as possible.’ Not only are Mali GPUs scalable to allow multiple core implementation options but even the very way the chipset is configured allows vast scope for customization too. ARM Mali’s specialized bandwidth saving technologies like ARM Frame Buffer Compression (AFBC) and Adaptive Scalable Texture Compression (ASTC) contribute to efficiency by reducing bandwidth and freeing up power where it’s needed most.
With its sleek wireless design, Nibiru’s next generation, standalone VR headset represents the future of mobile VR. As we continue to work together on the ARM & Nibiru Joint Innovation Lab we aim to help streamline the game development process and enable fantastic content to complement it. Here in the ARM Mali team we can’t wait to see what they come up with next!